April Anderson Greene taught her son, Donte, much more than how to play basketball.
As a federal government employee, she took him around the world and showed him the difference between a game's outcome and real loss.
Today, the Towson Catholic senior is one of the nation's top high school players, with potential that has earned him a scholarship to Syracuse, but because his mother died unexpectedly six years ago and isn't alive to see it, Donte Greene twice tried to throw everything away by attempting suicide.
"My mom was everything," said Greene, 18. "She was my best friend. I was incredibly depressed when I lost her, until I came to realize that the last thing my mother would want me to do was hurt myself."
St. Frances coach William Wells, one of the local coaches trying to stop Greene this season, also coached his mother at the Madison Square Recreation Center. He described her as "a 6-1 power forward who could put the ball on the floor, all business," but she wasn't defined by basketball.
At Baltimore's old Southern High, she was also on the gymnastics, softball and volleyball teams, captained the cheerleaders and sat on the student council. A fellow member of the Class of 1974 and a teacher there remembered her as one who bridged the racial divide between kids from Curtis Bay and Cherry Hill.
Membership in the French Cooking Club hinted at an interest in other cultures. En route to earning a bachelor's degree at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, she climbed the civil service ladder at the National Security Agency. As she took posts at U.S. Department of Defense installations, she was accompanied by her husband, Donnie, a former basketball player at Catonsville High, and then their sons.
Donte was born not far from Munich, and of the winters in Syracuse, said: "It's nowhere near as cold as Germany." After his parents divorced in the mid-1990s, he attended school in Japan, then returned to Germany. Vacations were taken in Hawaii, Guam and Thailand.
He ran on soccer midfields in Asia and Europe. Introduced to volleyball early, Greene played four seasons for the Owls, acquiring discipline in a closely officiated sport. He didn't play organized basketball overseas, but did get schooled by his mother.
"She was quick," Greene said. "Very strong, too."
After her second tour in Germany, his mother, Donte and younger brother Demetrick settled in Hanover, Pa. Just as the details of her NSA work had been classified, she did not share with her sons the extent of her heart condition. Less than a month after she consoled them about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, their world caved in again on Oct. 6, 2001.
"One morning her alarm kept going off," Greene said. "That wasn't like my mom, so I went to her bedroom to check on her. I'm the one who found her."
April Anderson Greene died in her mid-40s. Her ex-husband rushed to his sons and found his oldest's response to the shock odd.
"Donte went to play basketball that afternoon," Donnie Greene said. "He spoke at his mom's funeral. He was just 13, did an excellent job. To look at him, you would think nothing was wrong."
The brothers moved in with their father in a rowhome across from Edmondson Heights Elementary.
"No mom, new school, new friends," said Donnie Greene, who is licensed to haul trailers but drives trucks locally to be a constant presence for his boys. "I knew something was up when Donte started talking in his sleep."
Donte Greene said he twice took a sharp object to his wrists and tried to end his life.
"I was in a downward spiral," he said.
Donnie Greene remembers a long six months before his son's despondence began to lift. Donte worked through his grief, thanks to an extended family, school counselors and his willingness to open up and talk.
Basketball helped, too.
Greene joined a church team on the west side. Woodlawn High wanted him badly, but Mike Daniel recruited him to Towson Catholic and steered him to the Mount Royal Recreation Center. It was weeks after Carmelo Anthony, a product of those programs, led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA title, and the Mount Royal coaches had a captive eighth-grader on their hands.
After Greene's sophomore season, Towson Catholic forced Daniel to resign and hired Josh Pratt, who remains grateful that Greene didn't transfer.
"The kid is just not built like that," Daniel said. "With all of the world he's seen, basketball might not even be Donte's final cup of tea."
After earning a Syracuse offer with his play in the summer of 2005, Greene nonetheless remained a self-starter on the AAU circuit.
"When he came home from [Nike camp in] Indianapolis last summer," Pratt said, "I told him, 'Just keep doing whatever you've been doing.' I can't take credit for that."
Greene, 6 feet 9 and 220 pounds, is averaging 22.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.5 assists. He has deep range on his jump shot, skills and size that led to the nickname "The Human Mismatch." Pushed away from the basket, he'll dribble behind his back and between his legs before dropping a three-pointer over a defender.
You can envision him averaging 20 points as an NBA wing, and giving up 35 if he doesn't learn to apply himself at the defensive end. Like many young players, he turns his vision from the ball when his man doesn't have it.
The fact that Greene is still learning the game was clear Dec. 17 in Syracuse when a Philadelphia team that includes two of his future Orange teammates limited Greene to three points.
The Owls rallied to win behind guard Malcolm Delaney, who's headed to Virginia Tech, but Greene was the star in last month's 10-point victory over St. Frances, which kept the Owls atop The Sun rankings.
Just as his mother wanted everyone to get along in high school, Greene wants harmony for Towson Catholic.
"Between Malcolm and me [getting their shots], a team could get discouraged," Greene said. "You have to let everyone on the team know that you need them, too."
Greene nonetheless is the heir apparent in a recent line of Baltimore Catholic League players that peaked with Anthony.
"I didn't know there were that many alumni from Syracuse in Baltimore," Greene said. "I can't shy away from the comparisons to Carmelo."
Orange coach Jim Boeheim will not soft-sell Greene.
"We caution our fans about putting expectations on kids," Boeheim said. "Despite what Carmelo did, I think they're realistic here about freshmen. Besides, I'm probably more excited about next year's class than they are. As good a player as Donte is, he's a better kid."
Greene will be moving from Towson Catholic's three-row gym to the Carrier Dome, the game's largest home venue. Syracuse is a media-savvy member of the Big East Conference, a made-for-TV league. Greene will be asked to hash over a dark period of his adolescence, but he is eager to explain the significance of his mother.
"Whenever I think of her," Donte said, "I ask myself, 'What should I be doing?' She gives me strength. I'm always asking her questions, and she's always talking to me."